“Match your talents with the world’s deepest needs” Hassmiller urges at 2019 Commencement Ceremony

Following is the powerful and deeply personal speech delivered by Dr. Sue Hassmiller to nearly 300 members of the Carolina Nursing Class of 2019 and their loved ones at Commencement on Saturday, May 11. For photos of the celebration, please visit our Facebook page.

Thank you so much. I’m absolutely delighted to be with you.

Graduates, congratulations for achieving this milestone. What an honor!

Parents, friends, faculty, and university members, thank you for your unconditional love to the graduates gathered today.

The New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a wonderful op-ed several years ago and I want to share part of his message with you.

He makes a distinction between resume virtues and eulogy virtues. The resume virtues are the skills that each of you bring to the marketplace, and what you’ve spent your entire life – and especially your entire academic life – developing.

The eulogy virtues are what people would say about you at your funeral… whether you were kind, brave, faithful or capable of deep love; and I would add capable of compassion.

The eulogy virtues get to the core of who we are as people, but our culture and educational systems often spend more time teaching the skills and strategies we need for career success than the qualities that we need to radiate an inner light.

Brooks notes that commencement speakers often focus on life as an autonomous journey, with instructions to follow your passions. Instead, he argues that life is really about the communities we build and the relationships we develop with each other.

My relationships and community are core to who I am and what I believe in. I have been blessed to love deeply and unconditionally. My soulmate, Bob, and I were married for 37 years. We have two wonderful children and two grandchildren.

Bob and I hiked, biked, danced and relished days spent with our grandchildren. We volunteered together through the American Red Cross.

Then in an instant—on a September morning in 2016—everything changed. Bob fell hard off of his bicycle and became an instant paraplegic. He spent 10 brutal days in the intensive care unit. His systems failed one by one, and on the 10thday, I made a heart wrenching decision to remove him from life support. It shook me to my core, and I will never be the same.

During this time, two nurses became my rock – and part of my community. They showered me with kindness, empathy, and compassion. Eulogy virtues.

First Abby, the receiving trauma nurse anesthetist. She told me how devastated she felt by what had happened. She hugged me and said she wished that she could take my pain away.

And then afterwards, she found my email address through a Google search and reached out to me. She described what an extraordinary person my husband was in the face of a life threatening accident and how the two of them communicated with one another — and how the event changed her own life.

To know what transpired between her and Bob would never bring Bob back, but it gave me a sense of peace that there was a human being whose spirit and touch connected in a very profound way at a very important time. Compassion.

And then at the end there was Kathy. She was different from all the other ICU nurses. Yes, she had all the same expert skills. She knew how to run the machines and make sound life and death decisions.

But she went above and beyond—the kind of nurse who paid attention to our pictures on the bedside stand, asked about our personal lives, and shared some of hers. She offered to drive me home one evening during a rainstorm after her shift ended.

Kathy placed her CD player next to Bob and inquired what kind of music he liked after touching his upper shoulder and face — the only places where Bob still had feeling. She moved his paralyzed body to one side so that I could lie next to him.

And then she stayed way beyond her shift’s end to be with me as the machines were turned off. She made me feel that it was her honor and privilege to stay with me. She hugged me…she touched me, and I will never forget her. Compassion.

Abby and Kathy held me up when I could not stand, and they provided the compassion and empathy I desperately needed. Eulogy virtues.

My hope is that you’ll remember Abby and Kathy when you start your nursing careers, and that you’ll show the same compassion and empathy that they did. And you will remember Bob and me who benefitted greatly from their compassion.

The truth is — they were the exception. Bob received excellent clinical care – resume virtues – but the compassion was often missing. Being proficient, to me, is only the baseline for what a great nurse is. You will never be a great nurse without compassion.

Technology, paperwork, staffing ratios, personal issues and the work culture can overwhelm the best of clinicians.

Far too often, clinicians asked if I had questions with their head already outside the door or from behind a computer.

I hope that you’ll connect and empathize with your patients and their families. Get to know them as people. Don’t simply ask: “What’s the matter” but ask “What matters to you?” And truly listen when they tell you.

Be a great nurse—not a proficient nurse.

Beyond work, I hope that you’ll develop deep connections that hold you up in times of challenge and push you towards the common good. Develop unconditional loves in your life. And commit to tasks that can’t be completed in a single life time—like confronting racism, or addressing climate change, global poverty, or inequity.

Do your part to uphold human dignity, embrace our right and responsibility to participate, stand with those living in poverty, bridge divisions, and nurture our earth.

Turn your career into a calling. Ask yourself: What is your life asking you to do? What are your deepest desires? How can you match your talents with the world’s needs? Who are your people, and who will you serve?

There’s no better time to ponder these questions than right now when you’ve got a multitude of choices before you.

In today’s America, too many people’s health is tied to how much money they make, how much school they’ve completed, and the neighborhoods they live in.

As a nurse, you bring the gift of healing and an understanding of all of the factors that affect a person’s health – where they live, learn, work, play, and worship.

Nurses need to be leaders and partners in building a national Culture of Health that provides everyone in America a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being.

For some, that may mean the absence of illness. For others, like Bob, it means experiencing a true sense of well-being. It means care that centers on the patient’s needs and an understanding of what is important to him or her. Compassion.

Nurses across the nation are immersed in providing everyone in America a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being.

Indeed, nurses—you—have a responsibility and an obligation by virtue of your education at UNC to promote health and well-being no matter where and how you practice.

Building a Culture of Health and instilling compassion in care have become my calling.

Perhaps we won’t fully get there in my lifetime, but many of us, working together, will lay the groundwork for creating a healthier, more compassionate America one person and one community at a time.

May your career be your calling, your core value compassion, and your mission justice.

My hope is that you’ll dedicate your life to matching your talents with the world’s deepest needs—and that each of you will radiate an inner light and seem deeply good to those around you. That you’ll listen well, make others feel valued, and that you’ll be filled with gratitude and generosity of spirit.

I want to leave you with an anonymous nursing quote that I love:

I felt your joy.
I felt your pain.
I wiped your tears.
I calmed your fears.
I kept your secrets.
I taught you how strong you are.
I saved your life.
I saved your child’s life.
My body aches.
My heart aches.

And I love every minute.

Congratulations again and best wishes!